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Culture Watch


The Man Who Loved Jane Austen
by Sally Smith O’Rourke, © 2006
Published by Kensington Books; paperback: 291 pp

It must require considerable chutzpah for a modern writer to invoke the name of Jane Austen in the title of a book. Unfortunately, chutzpah isn’t enough to rescue Ms. O’Rourke’s effort.

Anyone who wants to emulate the amazing Miss Austen should first of all have an excellent command of the English language, not just grammar and vocabulary, but an ear for its rhythms and nuances. Alas, The Man Who Loved Jane Austin is full of unfortunate examples of dreadful writing.

This is particularly evident in her attempts to recreate the speech of characters who lived in the 19 th century, but she doesn’t fare much better with modern speech.

Has the woman never heard of the subjunctive (“... staring at him as if he was mad,” or “... saw his lips moving as if he was speaking ...”)

And how does a writer mistake an adjective for a noun? At one point, Darcy feigns unconsciousness while listening to the conversation around him. The next thing we know, “He quickly resumed his unconscious act as footsteps approached the bed.” One assumes that what was meant is that he resumed feigning the act of unconsciousness, inasmuch as the act itself was quite intentional.

I know that the dictionary defines “verdant” as “sea green,” but can it really apply to anatomy, as in “... the haunted look in Darcy’s verdant eyes ...”? Maybe feeling that it’s an adjective best applied to things like lawns or forests or far-off hills marks me as old fashioned, but if that’s so, I’ll accept it, and state with great passion that I believe Miss Austen herself would side with me.

There are simple spelling errors like “He stopped talking at the site of Eliza at the balcony railing.” Where in God’s name was the editor of this book? Two sentences following that misspelling, there is a glaring comma fault that would have earned the writer an automatic C on a freshman English theme.

Even the use of adverbs sounds a wrong note. The author feels that verbs just aren’t strong enough without a mood-indicating “ly” to precede them. Excuse me, but I am offended by things like “Faith abruptly cut in.” Is there any way to cut in non-abruptly? Or “‘We shall go to Edward’s,’ she defiantly declared.” At the very least, she could put “defiantly” behind the verb.

But beyond all the niggling little errors of grammar, what brings this reader to utter, head-shaking astonishment is the author’s tin ear. What else could account for lines like: “‘Dear Jane, you are, as always, all kindness and understanding,’ he effused.” Effused??

And the plot?

Well, O’Rourke’s story involves time travel as a way to explain that Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberly, the fictional hero of Pride & Prejudice, was a real person who slipped from the 21 st century back into the 19 th century, and was beloved of Jane Austen before he managed to return to modern times.

The story begins with the finding of a letter concealed behind the mirror of a little vanity table for a couple of hundred years. The discoverer is a young woman named Eliza Knight. In her effort to authenticate the letter, addressed “Miss Jane Austen, Chawton Cottage,” Eliza meets Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberly Farms in Virginia who, after some initial misunderstandings, falls madly in love with her.

I will give Ms. O’Rourke credit for trying to follow the Austen formula of two young people who meet and experience an attraction that is quickly destroyed by some sort of misunderstanding, which leads to the heart of the story, i.e. how they eventually realize that they have been wrong about each other, followed at the end by declarations of love.

In O’Rourke’s hands, however, the formula takes on the aura of a Harlequin romance (forgive me, Harlequin). The one-dimensional characters are painfully predictable, and the writing itself just plain painful.

If that’s your cup of tea, you don’t need to involve Jane Austen at all.



Ed. Note: From time to time we will do short reviews of books that may appeal to small groups with special interests.


By Michael Kuo, © 2005 (with photography by Mark Davis)
Published by
University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor
216 pp, paperback

(Reviewer’s note: that’s morels, as in an edible fungus, not to be confused with morals or morale)

This beautiful book would be a treasure to add to the bookshelf of anyone who loves mushrooms, but it is of particular interest to mycologists and mushroom hunters everywhere.

Laid out with impressive intelligence, Morels offers chapters defining the morel family, explaining where to look for them, how to clean, cook, and preserve them, and even what makes a morel hunter tick. The book lists championships and festivals, and offers theory as to ideal conditions for the growth of morels, as well as a wish list of experiments to learn more about them. It also gives good information about morels in natural settings, and lists the many species and where to find them.

But beyond the lively text and good information, Morels boasts more than 200 magnificent photographs. It doesn’t take a specialist to appreciate the beauty and variety of color and form that morels offer us. It just took an excellent photographer to show them to us.


Jane Shortall's review of Wicked!>>.

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© 2006 Julia Sneden for SeniorWomenWeb

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